You’ve probably heard about that crazy Dutch guy who chills out in sub-zero temperatures like it’s no big deal. Well, that man is Wim Hof and he might just be onto something.
Known as The Iceman, Hof has broken some pretty cool records, including completing a half marathon in bare feet above the Arctic Circle and being covered in ice cubes for near on two hours. Basically, he’s obsessed with stretching his body to the absolute limits, in the worst conditions imaginable.
In between achieving these crazy feats, Hof educates daring people of the world in the Wim Hof Method, which combines cold therapy and breathing in the hopes of reducing stress levels, increasing energy and pepping up the immune response; which is exactly what we all need right now.
Along with the calming benefits, the technique is said to improve sleep, help you focus, enhance creativity and increase willpower; so with that, it’s time to prepare your lungs and your senses and give The Iceman’s technique a try.
First thing’s first; safety. While doing the breathing method you’re essentially making yourself hyperventilate, so you don’t want to do this one standing up, in water, the car or anywhere you could get yourself into trouble if you pass out. Lying down is best, preferably on something soft and comfy like your bed. And if you’re pregnant this is a no-no, sorry gals.
Hof recommends starting on an empty stomach for maximum results, so peg in 15 to 20 minutes just after you wake up to fire up those lungs. To get things rolling, use the guided exercise video below so you can hear Hof talk through the method as you follow along.
You’ll start with 20 to 30 power breaths before exhaling and holding your breath for as long as you’re able. For me, this was the truly groundbreaking part. Without this exercise, I was struggling to hold my breath for 30 seconds. With it, I was stretching it to one and a half minutes. As someone who suffers from the occasional panic attack, this part helped me understand them better and will hopefully help me get through them in future. You feel the similar effects of tingling and lightheadedness, but you’re in control. It taught me to relax into these sensations that would normally scare me, and how to reset when they became too much.
Once you’re done holding your breath it’s time to take a big deep breath in and hold for 15 seconds before starting the cycle all over again. Repeat this three or four times and you’ll find yourself being able to hold your breath for longer and longer with each cycle. And when you’re all done you’re going to want to chill out for a little bit, gently moving your fingers and toes and returning your breath to normal before getting into your day. I like doing a little meditation to cap things off because I’m usually feeling more focussed and can get more out of it, and let’s face it, we’ve all got a lot more free time these days.
Now for the cold therapy portion of the method. This is still my least favourite, and to be honest, I’m less consistent with it because it’s kinda painful. But when I do it I always feel pretty good afterwards.
You’ll be guided to start with a warm shower and then turn off the hot tap and hang out in the cool stream for as long as you’re able before getting out. When I first tried this I didn’t last longer than about three seconds, so I changed up my approach. I started washing my face in cold water instead and then worked up to the shower (which I’m still not able to do for longer than ten seconds). But, persistence is key. Hof recommends working up to 15 seconds over the course of a week and a full minute at the month mark.
As for the effects, I get the most out of the breathing technique. It sets me up in good stead for dealing with the various stressors thrown at me during the day. On days that are less hectic, I stay calmer for longer and it puts me in a pretty good mood. It’s also allowed me to get more comfortable with my breathing when I am stressed. I’m still going to keep up with the cold showers a little while longer, and hey, maybe one day you’ll see me out there on the ice like Hof making friends with the cold.
If you're not into breath holds and hyperventilating, here are 5 ways to stay calm when everyone else is freaking out.
Image credit: Greg Rakozy